Orem feels some drought relief from October rain, but needs more
With the amount of rain Orem has received during October, the first month in the new water year, hopes are high the area will be out of the drought sooner than later.
That is a very good wish, but weather patterns will have to stay like this through the winter months, according to Chris Tschirki, director of public works.
When it comes to water storage and the locations from which Orem gets some of its water, the numbers have gone up but are still below normal.
The capacity of Deer Creek Reservoir and Jordanelle Reservoir are 149,700 acre feet and 314,000 acre feet, respectively. Combined, these total to 463,700 acre feet.
“On Oct. 25, the combined water storage levels are at 54% of capacity. Normally, it would be 73% of capacity on this day,” Tschirki said. “This is 89,900 acre feet less than what is normally observed on this date. Though there have been significant rain and snow events in the Uintas since August, the storage is substantially lower than normal.”
Photos courtesy of Kathy Donnell/Rock Cliff Nature Center
Tschirki noted that the most important thing is the moisture content of the soil.
“Soil moisture is a critical component of a healthy snowmelt, which usually begins the last week of April. At the time of snowmelt last year, the soil moisture in Orem’s watershed was woefully under average — approaching record lows,” Tschirki said. “As a result, the runoff was absorbed in the dry ground — like a sponge.”
“Today, the soil moisture in our watershed is substantially higher than average — in fact, it is as high as it has been in recent history — 163% of average,” Tschirki said. “This would bode well if the runoff occurred today. However, we are day 26 of the water year, which has 210 days from Oct. 1 to the beginning of snowmelt and runoff. We will continue to need a series of significant snow events up until the commencement of the snowmelt in the Uintas, which typically starts near April 30.”
The water year starts Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30 of the next year. One of Orem’s main data collection points is found at Trial Lake in the Uinta Mountains at the head of the Provo River, according to Tschirki.
“On Oct. 25, this site has measured a total of 4.0 inches of precipitation (2.2 inches is the average on this date in the water year) and 1.6 inches of snow water equivalent (SWE) — normally this is 0.5 inches on this date in the water year,” Tschirki said, again stressing the need for continued precipitation.
Orem has realized a reduction of indoor and outdoor water consumption in 2021. This spring, Gov. Spencer Cox issued a series of emergency declarations associated with the drought. While Orem City did not mandate watering restrictions, regular updates and announcements made through social media and the news media had a positive influence on consumer behavior, according to Tschirki.
The peak water demand in Orem’s history is 61 million gallons of water on July 10, 2018. In 2021, Orem’s peak water demand was 43 million gallons on June 14. At Orem’s Water Reclamation Facility, indoor water flows (in the form of sewage) are also measured, and modest reductions were also realized, Tschirki noted.
“In other words, Orem citizens voluntarily modified their behaviors and reduced their water consumption both inside and outside in one of the worst droughts in recorded history,” he said. “Thank you, citizens of Orem, for voluntarily responding to these challenges!”
Data documenting increased temperatures since the late 1800s is readily available, and a shortening of the winter period would translate into earlier springs and/or later falls, thereby extending the irrigation season.
“Increasing temperatures and extended irrigation seasons coupled with increasing populations will require increased efforts to change consumer behavior,” Tschirki said. “Water conservation efforts will need to increase. Orem City Code 22-14-13 was adopted to promote water conservation-oriented landscaping solutions.”
Historically, Orem citizens use five times more water during the peak summer heat than inside their home during the winter. Orem City will continue to promote wise water use into the future through code changes, conservation-oriented water rates, public education outreach efforts and regular reminders, according to Tschirki.
As far as global weather affecting Orem, Tschirki noted that this year is considered a “La Niña” year, which typically indicates it will be a little drier than normal, but that is not always the case.
La Niña refers to the periodic cooling of sea-surface temperatures across the east-central equatorial Pacific.